.The Phoenix Suns are coming off their first Finals appearance since the 1992-1993 season, along with their first record over .500 since the ‘13-14 season. It’s fair to say the Suns exceeded expectations last season.
After acquiring Chris Paul, Phoenix was expected to compete for a playoff spot around the 4-7 seed. Yet again, Paul took his team to a higher level as the Suns finished the season with a 51-21 record, good for the second-best record in the league.
After getting the second seed in the Western Conference, Phoenix rolled through the bracket. They defeated LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in six, swept the MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, then clinched a Finals appearance after beating Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers in six in the Western Conference Finals.
In the Finals, the Suns faced Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, winning the first two games at home before losing the next four. Phoenix had no answer for Antetokounmpo, and he dropped 50 in the series-clinching Game 6 win.
Even after the NBA Finals loss, the Suns’ young roster knows that they are still in win-now mode and they have the pieces to compete for an NBA championship. With Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, and the rest of the core now having postseason experience, another playoff run seems likely.
Under the reigns of Monty Williams and James Jones, the organization has made strides in the right direction as a team that is no longer in the cellar of the Western Conference. They are a team that has the star power and depth to once again compete for a title. Jones made many moves to keep the team’s core intact and strengthen the rotation.
After losing in the Finals, Jones went out and re-signed Chris Paul to a 4-year, $120M contract to bring back the future Hall of Famer until the age of 40. Paul was one of the biggest factors for the Suns’ success this season and an integral part of the run to the Finals, scoring 37 and 41 points in two series-clinching wins.
The 36-year-old played in 70 of 72 regular-season games last season and if he remains healthy, “CP3” will once again be one of the most important pieces on this Suns team due to his leadership, passing, and defense.
With young 3-and-D wings being one of the hottest commodities in the NBA, Jones made sure he secured his small forward for the next four years. Bridges re-signed with the Suns on a 4-year, $90M deal to keep him in the Valley through his age-28 season. The 25-year old from Villanova will continue to shine as a great defender, averaging around one block and one steal per game, with terrific on-ball defense. Bridges has also improved as a three-point shooter (42% in ‘20-21) and is a premier slasher.
A player who was almost out of the league, Cameron Payne revived and essentially saved his career in the bubble last season. As Chris Paul’s backup this past season, Payne averaged 16.8 PPG and 7.2 APG per-36 minutes and was rewarded with a three-year, $19M extension.
Paul is getting older, so Payne may be asked to start some games this season if Paul rests or is injured. With his passing instincts, quickness to the hoop, and elite three-point shooting (44% last season), Payne will likely average more minutes per game this season than last (18 MPG).
In his first season in Phoenix, Abdel Nader posted career-highs in points per game, rebounds per game, shooting percentage, and three-point percentage. The Suns recognized his performance and re-signed him to a two-year, $4.2M deal. After a right knee injury and surgery, Nader missed the final 31 games before returning in the playoffs. Entering his fifth season, Nader has yet to miss the playoffs in his career, and the 28-year-old Egyptian is yet another reason why Phoenix has so much depth, especially at the wing spot.
In his second season in the Valley, Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky saw his minutes dwindle a little bit (from 19.9 MPG to 15.2), and his efficiency slightly rose as he started to knock down threes on a higher clip. As the backup to Ayton last year, Kaminksy lost some minutes but was re-signed to a one-year, $2.1M deal. With a new backup center coming in, Kaminsky may be fighting to gain minutes for the Suns.
After watching Antetokounmpo in the Finals do what Antetokounmpo does, Jones decided that it was time to beef up the frontcourt, something they did not do at the trade deadline. JaVale McGee signed a one-year, $5M deal with Phoenix. Signing the 7’0’, 270-lb center gives Phoenix a big-bodied rim-protector, rebounder, and lob-catcher. McGee will be the primary backup for Deandre Ayton this season.
After ranking in the top-10 in most offensive categories, Jones still wanted to add more scoring and shooting to the team. Back in August, the Suns traded Jevon Carter and their 2021 first-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets for sharpshooter Landry Shamet. The 24-year-old has since signed a four-year, $43M extension with Phoenix. Shamet adds more depth at the two and elite three-point shooting, where he is a 39.7% shooter over his three-year career.
With Paul entering his age-36 season, it is possible that he may rest more than last season, especially on back-to-backs. With an aging point guard (yet still playing at an elite level), Jones went out and signed Elfrid Payton to a one-year, $2.2M deal. This is Payton’s second stint with the Suns, as he started all of his 19 games for the team during the ‘17-’18 season.
He was the starting point guard for the New York Knicks last season, starting all 63 games he played in and averaged just north of 10 PPG and 3 APG. Last season was the first in Payton’s seven-year career where he averaged less than six APG, and he isn’t much of a versatile scorer with a career three-point percentage of only 29%.
After losing a few key role players and wings this offseason, the Suns needed to make a move for one, signing Chandler Hutchison to a one-year, $1.5M deal. Hutchison fell out of the Chicago Bulls’ rotation last year and was traded to the Washington Wizards. Now entering his fourth season, the 6’6”, 210-lb small forward will need to battle to gain minutes with his above-average slashing ability and inside scoring.
One of the biggest factors in Phoenix’s 51-21 record and their deep playoff run was the depth of their bench. With Cameron Payne, Cameron Johnson, and Dario Šarić running the second unit, the Suns had one of the best benches in the league.
Torrey Craig, who signed with the Indiana Pacers, was added late in the season and had one of the biggest impacts for the team in the playoffs. Craig’s defense, rebounding, and hustle was an integral piece in the Finals run. Carter was sent to the Nets in the acquisition of Shamet, and his minutes dwindled in his final season in Phoenix.
E’Twaun Moore (signed with the Orlando Magic) and Langston Galloway both played solid minutes for Phoenix earlier in the season. They saw their playing time drop as well later in the season as the rotation set. Ty-Shon Alexander, who was on a two-way contract, only played 15 games and averaged three MPG last season. Now he and Langston Galloway are free agents.
(stats from previous season)
PG –– Chris Paul (16.4 PPG, 8.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 49.9 FG%, 39.5% 3PT)
SG –– Devin Booker (25.6 PPG, 4.3 APG, 4.2 RPG, 48.4 FG%, 34% 3PT)
SF –– Mikal Bridges (13.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 54.3% FG, 42.5 % 3PT)
PF –– Jae Crowder (10.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 40.4% FG, 38.9% 3PT)
C –– Deandre Ayton (14.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 62.6% FG)
Phoenix’s starting lineup is one of the best in the league. With an elite floor general in Paul and one of the league’s best scorers in Booker, the Suns’ backcourt is among the top in the Association. Both Paul and Booker are phenomenal three-level scorers, especially in the mid-range. Booker’s three-point percentage dipped last season, but expect it to rise.
Bridges, with his 7’1” wingspan, continues to get better as a premier defender, slasher, and shooter, especially from the corner. Jae Crowder, entering his 10th season, continues to provide solid defense and three-point shooting. Although streaky, he shot near 40% from beyond the arc last season.
The biggest X-factor for the season may again be Ayton, who is disgruntled after not receiving a max contract. Ayton averaged a double-double last season on high efficiency and superb defense. After an exceptional performance throughout the playoffs, many thought Ayton would be given a max. Perhaps Jones, Robert Sarver, and the front office want to see more consistency over a full season.
The combination of offensive and defensive skill in this starting five will make the Suns an elite team once again. With balance throughout the starting lineup, the team will likely be near the top of the West again.
The depth of the Suns is, like the starting lineup, one of the best units in the NBA. Cameron Payne has established himself as one of the best backup point guards in the NBA with his quickness, facilitating, and shooting.
Cameron Johnson was, when he got drafted by the Suns, purely a shooter. Entering his third season, Johnson has improved both his inside scoring and defense. His three-point percentage dropped from 39% to 35%, but he is one of the best young shooters in the league.
Shamet is an elite shooter as well. A second unit led by Payne, Johnson, and Shamet will offer multiple scoring threats in the second unit.
With Šarić out for the season, Jalen Smith and Kaminsky will be asked to play some minutes at the four, with possibly some Nader minutes if small-ball is employed. McGee will be an elite shot-blocker and rebounder as Ayton’s backup.
After finishing 51-21 in a shorter season, Phoenix will likely be a top-four team in the West again. With an elite backcourt, balanced lineup, great coach, and a phenomenal bench, the Suns should win 50+ games again as they contend for another Finals appearance with a better outcome in mind for the 2021-2022 season.
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